Some notes on Transport

Transport policy has lurched from initiative to initiative for decades, punctuated by the occasional attempts to develop an overarching strategy. At the core is the diversity of approach between roads and railways. Road users pay petrol and diesel taxes, and they pay a road licence fee. Rail users pay for the track access charges, the rolling stock and the train operators. Rail is largely untaxed; roads are heavily taxed through the fuel duties in particular. Buses are treated differently too.

The result is that there is no consistency in price signals between the two, and in effect there are separate road and rail policies. Any attempt to shift between the modes relies on government spending and this in turn falls under the broader constraints of national and local government spending controls. 

Much focus has been applied to Network Rail and to the big projects, such as HS2 and Crossrail 1 & 2. Network Rail managed, under the protection of the government guarantee to rack up over £30 billion of debt, with no prospect of repaying most (if indeed any) of it. Its management failures are well documented in endless reports. The task now is focused on breaking up parts of it, as much to limit the scope for further failures as in the intention of applying a rational structure.

Aviation is dealt with almost entirely separately - to the extent that the road and rail connections to a new possible runway in the Southeast appear to be of limited importance to policy makers. HS2 is will not be connected directly to Heathrow, and indeed it will not even be connected to HS1.  


Latest Publication

train 1396496 1920

HS2: a conclusion in search of a rationale

September 5, 2019

Transport Publication

What is the question or questions to which HS2 is supposed to be an answer? As with a number of big and long-term projects, as one rationale collapses another is grasped in the attempt to justify doing something, rather than work out whether it is a...


  • Publication Transport A critique of rail regulation
    October 17, 2000

    Beesley Lecture, Institute of Economic Affairs, London, October 17th 2000. Very few privatisations have been free of teething problems, and all new regulatory bodies have faced criticisms, made mistakes, and had to improvise and adapt with experience. Per

Receive monthly updates from Dieter Helm

© Dieter Helm. All rights reserved.Copyright & Terms